Friday, March 17, 2023

As if to prove the point

Sometimes, the best made plans really do go awry. My new organisation system was barely finished when the first obstacle came up. When that happened, it validated my decision to design the system. I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

At the time I published my post on my new organisation system, I hadn’t yet put everything in the “One Ring-binder To Rule Them All”; I knew how I wanted it all to go together, as I described in that post, but I hadn’t actually done it yet. It fell apart the very next day.

I decided that since I’d already published the post, I’d better get around to actually assembling everything into the new binder. That meant I’d have to punch holes in the new sheets (the ones in the existing two binders already had holes). There was a small problem: I had absolutely NO idea where I’d put my hole punch. Obviously, I’d put it “somewhere safe, so I can find it again”.

By pure luck, I found it—though its “somewhere safe” turned out to be a perfectly logical place. I punched holes in all the sheets that needed them—and then immediately filled out a sheet for the hole punch itself (photo up top), so I could put the sheet into the “Somewhere Safe” section and not lose track of it again.

And then I hit a completely unexpected problem: The binder I’d bought to use as the “One Ring-binder To Rule Them All” was a three-ring binder: New Zealand’s standard is a 2-hole binder. My hole punch only punches two holes, and everything I’d already set-up was punched with two holes.

A small digression: The USA isn’t the only country that uses three-ring binders, however, their standard is based on the paper sizes used on the USA and some other places in the Americas (technically, the standard’s called ANSI/ASME Y14.1). Most of the rest of the world uses paper that corresponds to the international (ISO) standards for paper sizes, (ISO 216).

The placement of the two holes in ISO countries is governed by another international standard, ISO 838, while the US-based system doesn’t have official standards, though there are customary positions of the holes.

What all of this means in practice is that my ISO two-hole punched sheets cannot fit into a US-standard three-ring binder. At first I was simply stunned: How could I not have noticed that the ring binder had three rings?!!! My probably obvious conclusion is that since I grew up with such binders, I simply didn’t “see” that it had three rings. However, I've only seen two-ring binders in New Zealand, so I wasn't expecting it to be different. Whatever, I needed a solution.

I decided to re-use the 2-ring binder I’d used for the original “Somewhere Safe”—but the new system has far too many pages for a binder that small. So, I crammed everything into the binder for my projects. It wasn’t the solution I wanted: I wanted to be able to put a cover sheet in the clear pouch of the binder’s cover, but the binder I had to use had no such clear cover. I realised that function would have to trump esthetics—for now.

Curious, I checked out the website of the store where I bought the three-ring binder and found out that they don’t sell 3-hole paper punches—only ISO 838-compliant ones. How, I wondered, would any New Zealander buying that three-binder actually use it?! I did a quick search and found some places in NZ that sell three-hole punches, ranging from around $30 to $170 (roughly US$19 and US$105, respectively). At least one of the punches was also capable of doing ISO 838 two-hole punches. There was no way I was going to buy a second hole punch, especially because I’m not certain that I didn’t bring the one I had in the USA; I haven’t needed a three-hole punch in all these years, so I can’t remember if I brought it or not (but it’s possible because in 1995 I had no idea about ISO 838 holes and two-ring binders).

And that’s where everything stayed until last Friday. I recorded a podcast episode where I talked about my new system, and I talked about the binder blunder. As I was editing the episode—and nearly finished, too—the solution suddenly popped into my head. I leapt into action (more or less…).

I had a two-ring binder I used to store all the recipes I’ve clipped or printed out, but instead of punching holes in them, I put them into clear plastic sleeves (mainly so I can wipe them clean if I splatter anything on them). Those plastic sleeves have multiple holes so they can fit into any ring binder of any standard. So, I transferred the recipes to the three-ring binder, then transferred Mission Control into the two-ring former recipe binder. As a bonus, it’s a better binder, with a slightly larger capacity, and the ring mechanism is a bit more robust. And, it has a plastic sleeve cover. All problems solved.

This whole episode shows that the memory and focus problems I designed Mission Control to help are all over the place: This isn’t just about projects or things I need to do or finding things/misplacing them, it’s about clearing out mental clutter so I can have a shot at focusing better. That doesn’t mean I’d have noticed that it was a three-ring binder before I bought it and went to use it, but maybe the odds would’ve been a bit better?

This incident really did validate my decision to design the Mission Control system, and there’s one thing more. Maybe—just maybe—knowing that I have the system gave me enough head room to allow me to suddenly have the brainstorm that solved the problem, even in the middle of editing a podcast episode. Maybe. But feeling vindicated isn’t bad, either.


Roger Owen Green said...

When I worked as a business librarian, I discovered an ISO standard for almost EVERYTHING; it had not occurred to me that binders would be one of them. But of course! I also had a bookmark to ANSI standards.

Arthur Schenck said...

When I lived in the USA, I was aware of ISO standards, though not in any depth. I knew more about the ANSI standards because I worked in printing and publishing, and understanding paper sizes was kind of important. Not surprisingly, maybe, I now find the ISO standards for paper sizes (and binders are much easier to understand and use, not the least because they're so logical.